We are Whole People, Not Broken Brains


Many of us in the consumer/survivor movement have begun to worry that recovery is being co-opted. That it is being used too easily, and has lost its meaning. I think we live in bubble. Outside our world, the larger society has not even heard that recovery is possible. In fact, society hears a constant litany, through major media, that emotional distress is due to chemical imbalance. Today young people are told they will never recover, and should accept that they have a life long illness.

I have been alerted to a recent situation illustrating such a prophesy of doom for a young person, which I will share in more detail soon. I told her I was one of many people who have recovered from schizophrenia. I said I had difficulties like hers but I don’t see them now as an illness. I told her I learned from my challenges to follow my dreams and gain meaning in my life. She thanked me for giving her hope.

This is a t-shirt sold at a recent NAMI Texas conference. Under a figure with an Indian-like design emanating from the person’s head is the caption: “Mental illness is a broken brain.” You can tell from the words under the heading that the design was intended to reduce stigma and discrimination. Unfortunately describing emotional distress as due to a broken brain has the opposite effect. This description has been shown by research to actually increase stigma and even more devastating, it robs people of hope.

When a psychiatrist tells a young adult that they have a life-long mental illness, hope crumbles. They are often told that their mental illness is like diabetes. This is not a fair comparison. Diabetes is due to a defect in a body part, the pancreas. It is understood, however, in diabetes, that the person can continue to play an active role in their life with diabetes. They can work on their diet, exercise, stress, connectedness, as well as medication.

On the other hand, mental illness literally means that your mind is sick. It is as if your very personhood is declared sick. Your mind, unlike your pancreas, is not just a body part. Your mind is the whole of who you are. Your mind is an expression of your whole self, which enables you to run your life. Your mind enables you to relate, set goals, dream, and have hope. If you and the people around you believe that your mind will be defective and sick for the rest of your life, you are left without hope of ever having the agency to build a life. This dire prediction can become a self-fulfilling prophesy.

The importance of hope and of feeling that deep down I am still whole was brought out in a dream I had during my recovery. Here it is in the words I used to describe it 39 years ago:

“I went to a castle and found that a colonel had two young men imprisoned in the dungeon against their will. Whenever the young men, who were corporals, complained about their imprisonment, the colonel would give them a lecture on how crazy they were. At one point he brought out the drawing of a gargoyle on yellowing map like material. He said they could not leave because their brains were deformed and looked like the gargoyle. But the colonel’s main weapon was the men’s own ignorance of how they were originally imprisoned.

“I then came into the dream as a lieutenant and was shocked by the imprisonment of these two normally appearing young men. I did some research and discovered that several years ago they had been doing laboratory research and had looked through a microscope too long. This caused a blind spot to develop in their brains. This blind spot had caused them to do scary, crazy things for which they had been imprisoned in the castle. Now they were no longer locked in the castle, but the colonel, who was an old man stood guard over them.

“The colonel’s frequent lectures on their craziness prevented them from leaving the castle because they were assured by him and their ignorance that their condition was permanent-that they would always be crazy. I learned that in fact the men’s blind spot had long ago healed without any scarring and they were healthy. They were no longer crazy. So I went to the colonel with the young men and presented the evidence I had uncovered. He got very excited and said it was nonsense. We just started to walk out of the castle. When the old man tried to stop us, we brushed him aside and walked out into the sunlight.”

Several months after that I traveled to those realms of mind that only I have access to, and was hospitalized. During my hospitalization, I started to lose hope that I would ever recover. I asked my doctor if my brain was permanently broken. He said “no”. He believed that deep down I was still whole and that I could recover. I felt a tremendous surge of hope and freedom when he expressed how much he believed in me.

Years later, as I was meditating on this striking dream, I connected my experience of psychosis with earlier trauma. In my meditation, I focused my attention on the picture of the gargoyle. The paper was old and yellow. The edges of the picture were frayed. I knew I had seen that paper before. It reminded me of a map in my 6th grade room. It was a yellowed map of Europe. It suddenly occurred to me that was the same year I was sexually abused by a 6th grade teacher. In fact, the basement that he took me and many other young children to was called the dungeon. Also I recalled that I used to wear a khaki shirt with a corporal stripe sewed on the sleeve. In fact, another teacher used to call me corporal. The fear those experiences had etched in my soul burned on until they were freed by my breakdown, breakthrough and dream. I was whole not broken in my ‘Castle Dream’. The dream, as in other times, seemed to lead me to a critical life event. It seemed that I had to live out the dream in my conscious waking life.

I recently recalled a story illustrating the negative effects of such a prophesy of doom, as Pat Deegan eloquently calls it. In January, in the aftermath of the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook School, I was asked to testify before the Biden Commission on Gun Violence. By then the media was already generalizing that all people with mental health conditions are more violent than the rest of society. We were being described in terrible stigmatizing terms. I started my testimony by citing research such as the MacArthur study, showing that persons with mental health conditions were no more violent than the general population. I then told the story of a young man from a west coast state. I gave a talk about my own experience of recovery.

During my talk I noticed a young man near the front squirming around. At lunch time his mother sought me out. I asked her if her son had gotten anything from my talk, because he was younger than most of the audience. She said she thinks I may have saved his life. She said when he was 10 he had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and told that he would never recover. He was told he would have to take medication for the rest of his life and always be under professional care. She said he had been suicidal for last 3 years as a result of that prophesy. She said today was the first time he felt some hope. He told her that after he heard me describe my recovery he no longer feels suicidal.

I just learned, last week that my testimony had some impact. Apparently they felt that my testimony highlighted the importance of hearing stories of recovery. SAMHSA as a result wants to make available a large number of recovery stories to kick off a “National Dialogue about Recovery and Hope.”  The National Coalition for Mental Health Recovery is collaborating with SAMHSA in this National Dialogue.  There will be town hall meetings in a number of cities across the US.  Some may piggy-back on existing statewide consumer conferences.  The administration wants to outreach to media, campuses, high schools, and others to spread stories of hope and mental health recovery.

The videos will each be 6-8 minutes from varied points of view, and serve as an invitation for other people to submit videos of their own recovery to start creating buzz around this National Dialogue. This initiative will educate and enlighten the public that recovery is real, that there is hope for everyone to recover a full life in the community, that it helps to hear positive, not negative stories about recovery, and that peers often can be uniquely helpful in inspiring others. This goal is in keeping with the vision statement of the President’s New Freedom Commission for Mental Health, “We see a future where everyone with a mental illness will recover.” We might add that we see a future in which extreme emotional states will be understood to be part of the healing response from trauma and pain, rather than mental illness.


Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.


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  1. Another great essay Dan about that seemingly obnoxious and demeaning term “chemical imbalance,” and while I empathize with where your coming from, I wonder if we tend to “over-react” to what is essentially the lazy use of a simplistic metaphor, to articulate a complex problem. Do we need a more nuanced sense of what this simplistic metaphor actually means, beyond its fraudulent use in the power dynamics of our status-qua, social politics.

    In my own journey, only a more nuanced sense of this metaphor, has helped me remain medication free and enhanced my recovery process. Yet in developing this more nuanced sense-of-self I’ve had to plough through the often mind-numbing jargon of neuroscience to reach a deeper understanding of what this metaphor actually means. Please consider;

    “bipolar disorder chemical imbalance & trauma causation

    Is Trauma a hidden casual factor in bipolar disorder symptoms which are expressed through the brain-nervous systems, chemical reactions?

    Can a trauma defense of the body be conditioned, perhaps from birth or by habitual postures of avoidance in the skeletal musculature, caused by a long experience of physical & emotional abuse, for example?

    Is systems theory now beginning to explain the brain/body/mind better than our older clockwork universe model of simple cause and effect explanations of a chemical imbalance?
    What lies beneath our linear thinking of “one thing causes another” as if the body/brain is assembled like a machine? The cutting edge of modern psychotherapy is now returning to Freud’s term “unconscious,” with better understanding of left & right brain, chemical function. The notion of trauma and subsequent PTSD symptoms, is easily accepted when visualized in terms of one-off terrorizing events like war, rape, sexual and physical abuse, less easily accepted are the similar symptoms caused by emotional abuse, although it is clearly recognized by psychotherapists worldwide.

    Developmental deficits occurring during pre & postnatal experience, are being reexamined to more fully understand what we really mean by the word trauma, at the level of brain-nervous system chemistry. More particularly the impact of non-optimal experience during the crucial early years of life and brain-nervous system maturation. All the new advances in technology has aided neuroscience to more fully appreciate, that the well-balanced human personality literally means a well-balanced internal chemistry. Hence psychiatry’s use of the metaphor, a “chemical imbalance” to simplify our general understanding of the experience of mental illness.

    Please consider an example of the latest understanding of childhood development needs and the impact of traumatic experience;

    “Understanding Interpersonal Trauma in Children:
    Why We Need a Developmentally Appropriate Trauma Diagnosis

    Does Childhood Interpersonal Trauma Result in an Interrelated Set of Symptoms?

    Numerous studies have documented that exposure to interpersonal trauma during childhood is related to increased incidence of affect and impulse dysregulation, alterations in attention and consciousness, disturbances of attribution and schema, and interpersonal difficulties. First, we will review studies documenting disruptions in each of these areas. Studies documenting co-occurring disruption across multiple domains are subsequently reviewed.

    Dysregulation of Affect and Behavior

    A variety of symptoms may represent affective and behavioral dysregulation. Such affective symptoms commonly found in children exposed to interpersonal violence include lability, anhedonia, flat or numbed affect, explosive or sudden anger, and incongruous or inappropriate affect. Behavioral expressions of affect regulation may include withdrawal, self-injury, aggression, oppositional behavior, substance use, or other compulsive behavior. Behavioral dysregulation may represent affective overload as well as attempts to dispel, reduce, or recover from negative affect states” From: traumacenter.org

    * * *

    The left vs right brain war, for our sense of self?
    And the emotional revolution which is re-examining our intuitive sense of knowing.

    Most psychiatric diagnosis are made with a typically left-brained sense of “learned-knowing,” diagnosing people like myself by way of what the psychiatrist has been taught to do. We know that during a crisis of symptomatic behavior there is a great deal of pressure to restore emotional equilibrium/balance, not just for the sake of the individual, but all individuals involved with a particular sufferer. Yet is the sufferer being overwhelmed by an intuitive and emotional sense of self, which is little understood and largely denied by our “left-brained” cultural zeitgeist? Is cutting-edge psychotherapy turning away from this Descartian, left-brained world view towards a new understanding of our right-brained intuitive and emotional self? Is the infamous “chemical imbalance” theory true in its essence, yet false in its presumption of a disease process within the brain? Consider;

    “Here in the United States, how are we reacting to this crisis at the core of our culture? And if we are not responding, why not? In clinical models we speak of individuals having intrapsychic defenses against uncertainty, stress, and painful negative information. But defenses such as denial, repression, and even dissociation are collectively used by the culture to avoid more directly confronting the serious stressors that lie at its core. Forty years ago Jacob Bronowski offered the trenchant observation, “Think of the investment that evolution has made in the child’s brain.…

    For most of history, civilizations have crudely ignored that enormous potential. In fact the longest childhood has been that of civilization, learning to understand that” (1973, p. 425). In a current attempt to overcome that resistance and bring this problem closer to the forefront of cultural consciousness, my colleagues and I are producing two multiauthored volumes: Evolution, Early Experience and Human Development: From Research to Practice and Policy (Narvaez, Panksepp, Schore, & Gleason, in press), and The Impact of Early Life Trauma on Health and Disease: The Hidden Epidemic (Lanius, Vermetten, & Pain, 2010).

    Grounded in recent developmental neuroscience, psychiatry, and developmental psychology, these books cast light upon a number of serious psychological and social problems underlying our cultural blind spots. But more than that, contributing scholars from multiple disciplines offer practical thoughts about what types of early-life experiences are essential for optimal development of human brain and body systems— in order not only to generate greater understanding of scientific research and theory but also to promote informed public policy.

    In a recent overview of contemporary developmental neuroscience, Leckman and March (2011, p. 333) conclude, “our in utero and our early postnatal interpersonal worlds shape and mold the individuals (infants, children, adolescents, and adults and caregivers) we are to become.” At this point in time there is converging evidence that we can maximize the short- and long-term effects of our interventions by concentrating on the period of the brain growth spurt— from the last trimester of pregnancy through the second year. Whether or not our governments will fund such sorely needed efforts remains to be seen.”

    Excerpts from “The Science of the Art of Psychotherapy” by Allan N. Schore.

    In 2007, I had the great good fortune to stumble on Schore’s book “Affect Dysregulation & Disorders of the Self,” which set me off on a five year journey to understand the meaning of this strange and little understood word “affect.” Understanding that my bipolar disorder type 1 is also know as an “affective” disorder, my search has involved “sensing” the non-conscious nature of affect and its relation to my heart, brain-nervous systems, and the powerful, so-called “chemical imbalance” of psychosis. For, IMO it is a false sense of self, which seeks to treat others as objects, in our left-brained understanding of ourselves. “The Science of the Art of Psychotherapy” gives great examples and advise on this new emerging awareness of our true sense of self, in which the psychotherapist uses a right-brained non-conscious and “heart toned” sense of self, to sensitively, intuitively form a healing relationship with the client.

    I can only imagine what fate may have had in store, had I stumbled into Allan Schore’s office when experiencing my first manic euphoria? Would he have pronounced me schizophrenic in ten minutes, or perhaps listened calmly to my story and started a relationship which may have healed a missing developmental experience?

    Best wishes,

    David Bates.

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    • Sorry I forgot to provide the link to my comment above where people can read more about this paradigm shift now taking place in psychotherapy, as all the new discoveries of neuroscience begin to be integrated into clinical practice.

      Allan Schore and others are providing the kind of science that affirms our own implicit understanding that the brain is not broken in mental illness experience, rather these experiences are a “natural” response to “unbearable stress.”


      If we in the survivor community can go beyond our perfectly natural and justifiable response of anger & rage towards the treatments we have received, we can also begin to articulate a more nuanced argument about the nature of our experience.

      Best wishes to all,

      David Bates.

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    • David, I admire your attempt to distinguish between the power structure’s description of distressed people as having a broken brain from which they will never recover and your more nuanced description. I agree we should pick from science what we feel can assist us in our journey . However, I feel uncomfortable with the idea that trauma causes chemical changes that lead to bipolar disorder, characterized by “affect dysregulation and disorders of the self.” There was a time when I spoke and thought like that. It may work for you, but not for me. That line of thinking still removes me a step or two from the immediate experience of my self in relation to other people.

      If I find myself slipping back into patterns of destructive thoughts/feelings, such as “best not to trust anyone”, or “my body is just a sophisticated machine, devoid of a spirit, as portrayed in the ‘Matrix,'” I call on all the ways I have dealt with those periods before.I need to think with my most expansive self in the here and now. I need to listen to all my inner voices and make sense of them. I also find it very helpful to talk with someone, heart to heart. I try to express my inner pain with my authentic voice. For me, I find that the secondary process thinking involved in considering the role of my nervous system, separates me from my authentic voice and blocks my integration.

      As I write this I think, “David finds solace in such a description of his issues and his journey.” I am glad it has worked for you. At stake though are the millions of lives of those who are deeply troubled.I feel a need to raise my voice in their behalf.

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      • I guess that’s the point Dan, there are no secondary process forms of cognition that, as yet can describe the phenomena of being. Here in our efforts to communicate the experience of altered states, we are forced to use an evolved language which as yet, has no word symbols to describe the chemical reality of the cosmos within. A reality summed up so well in the phrase “we are made of star dust.”

        As you point out in brilliant essay;

        “If you and the people around you believe that your mind will be defective and sick for the rest of your life, you are left without hope of ever having the agency to build a life. This dire prediction can become a self-fulfilling prophesy.”

        I wonder if you can translate this intuitive sense of knowing into the “us vs them” social politics of American culture? A taken for granted worldview which keeps people focusing attention on “them” to deflect attention away from sensations within? Thereby unwittingly colluding with “the system” to maintain the system through subconscious, emotional reactivity?

        Hence my criticism of Laura Delano’s headline “the Cult of Psychiatry,” and the predictable, subconscious reaction such words affect in those who see themselves on the opposite side of this great “Us & them” subconscious divide in American society.

        As I pointed out to on Laura’s post and elsewhere, the new research into the affects of trauma do not just apply to individuals and family’s, it also applies to nation states;

        “Pause and catch the gap Laura, between the spark and the flame that is your brilliant mind. Don’t get drawn into the status-qua of social politics in a taken for granted and very American sense of “us vs them.”

        Step back if you can and look around at the violent culture in which you are daily immersed, and ask yourself if America as a modern nation is struggling to come to terms with its own traumatic birth, and violent theft of indigenous lands.

        A trauma that is perpetuated in the right to bear arms, and infuses this “us & them” sickness which is a self-fulfilling prophecy”

        Lastly, we both know that far too much is missing from the written word to convey the nuance of real-life meaning and I believe your simply playing the paternalistic game of social politics, in making a presumption about my experience;

        “I think, “David finds solace in such a description of his issues and his journey.” I am glad it has worked for you.”

        This is exactly what “the system” does Dan, for it is Paternalistic and Condescending. Seth points us towards the real issue involved in American social politics, with the cosmic nature and definition of God. A definition which constrains the exploration of the human condition in our journey towards redemption and the “realization” of heaven here on earth. I share Seth’s hope and understand the constraints of religious traditions in the scientific explorations of the human condition. Consider;

        “My hope lies with those among both groups, who refuse to do what they told and insist on affirming the wholeness, holiness and potency of the human soul. That is the first step toward social transformation, toward cosmic redemption.

        And in my own efforts to go beyond a taken for granted, survival view of “us & them” I’ve to articulate the “species aspect of the Savior, or Messiah phenomena.”

        I do understand what your saying Dan, for my cosmic soul also seeks a natural, harmonic resonance with all creation. Consider;

        “A Messiah Species? Existential Meaning in Metaphors?

        A messiah is a saviour or liberator of a people in the Abrahamic religions. Or a metaphor for our species?

        Savior or Saviour may refer to a person who helps people achieve salvation, or saves them from something. Or a Species Redemption of Light Matter Energy?

        A metaphor is a literary figure of speech that describes a subject by asserting that it is, on some point of comparison, the same as another otherwise unrelated object.
        Is it time to turn our awareness inwards, to the existential meaning of spiritual metaphors, in all the worlds mythologies?

        Metaphor is a type of analogy and is closely related to other rhetorical figures of speech that achieve their effects via association, comparison or resemblance including allegory, hyperbole, and simile.
        One of the most prominent examples of a metaphor in English literature is the All the world’s a stage monologue from As You Like It: All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances; — William Shakespeare, As You Like It. This quote is a metaphor because the world is not literally a stage. By figuratively asserting that the world is a stage, Shakespeare uses the points of comparison between the world and a stage to convey an understanding about the mechanics of the world and the lives of the people within it.” From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

        Does Metaphor & Mythology, express innate Intuition?
        “Intuition is the ability to acquire knowledge without inference and/or the use of reason. “The word ‘intuition’ comes from the Latin word ‘intueri’ which is usually translated as ‘to look inside’ or ‘to contemplate’.” Intuition provides us with beliefs that we cannot justify in every case. For this reason, it has been the subject of study in psychology, as well as a topic of interest in the supernatural. The “right brain” is popularly associated with intuitive processes such as aesthetic abilities. Some scientists have contended that intuition is associated with innovation in scientific discovery. Intuition is also a common subject of New Age writings.

        Intuition in Jungian psychology:
        In Carl Jung’s theory of the ego, described in 1921 in Psychological Types, intuition was an “irrational function”, opposed most directly by sensation, and opposed less strongly by the “rational functions” of thinking and feeling. Jung defined intuition as “perception via the unconscious”: using sense-perception only as a starting point, to bring forth ideas, images, possibilities, ways out of a blocked situation, by a process that is mostly unconscious.

        Jung said that a person in whom intuition was dominant, an “intuitive type”, acted not on the basis of rational judgment but on sheer intensity of perception. An extraverted intuitive type, “the natural champion of all minorities with a future”, orients to new and promising but unproven possibilities, often leaving to chase after a new possibility before old ventures have borne fruit, oblivious to his or her own welfare in the constant pursuit of change. An introverted intuitive type orients by images from the unconscious, ever exploring the psychic world of the archetypes, seeking to perceive the meaning of events, but often having no interest in playing a role in those events and not seeing any connection between the contents of the psychic world and him- or herself. Jung thought that extraverted intuitive types were likely entrepreneurs, speculators, cultural revolutionaries, often undone by a desire to escape every situation before it becomes settled and constraining—even repeatedly leaving lovers for the sake of new romantic possibilities. His introverted intuitive types were likely mystics, prophets, or cranks, struggling with a tension between protecting their visions from influence by others and making their ideas comprehensible and reasonably persuasive to others—a necessity for those visions to bear real fruit.

        The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), first published in 1944, attempted to provide an empirical method of identifying a person’s dominant ego function, in terms of Carl Jung’s theory. Beginning in the 1960s, scientists performed studies to see if MBTI results were consistent with the assumed theory that Jungian functions exist and conflict in such a way that one of them must be dominant and the others suppressed. Every study has found that instead of people’s MBTI scores clustering around two opposite poles, such as intuition vs. sensation, with few people scoring in the middle, people’s scores actually cluster around the middle of each scale in a bell curve. This suggests that the Jungian polarities do not exist. Most contemporary psychological research questions the existence of Jungian functions and the MBTI’s ability to tell which function is dominant.”
        From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia To further develop our intuition;

        “Perhaps some of us have to go through dark and devious ways before we can find
        the river of peace or highroad to the soul’s destination.” _Joseph Campbell.

        This is one of those posts in which I’m attempting to express my experience of euphoric mania and the inuitive sense of existential meaning which always infuses my psychoses? Please consider;

        The Evolution of Light, God & Existential Meaning?

        In the beginning was the Word?
        And the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

        The same was in the beginning with God.

        All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.

        In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
        And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
        See: John 1 (King James Version)

        The Word! As a Metaphor, for the Birth of God?

        Is the Biblical John expressing through metaphor, an unconscious and hidden reality of the Universe within? When we read the mythology of the worlds spiritual movements, as metaphorical interpretations of existential meaning, not history? Are we reading about the evolving nature of a Cosmic Consciousness, the Universe percieving itsself through its own evolved form? Is God, simply a metaphor for our evolved nature, as the projection of our mature Godhead? Not now, but in the future? Are we at the begining of a long prophesied Golden Age, as Science and Spirituality begin to converge? Pease consider this conversation about the nature of light and our evolving symbolization (interpretation) of life’s existential meaning;”


        Of coarse I don’t expect a response, for this viewpoint does not suit the taken for granted and self-fulfilling prophesy of “us vs them” social politics.

        Best wishes,

        David Bates.

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      • Dan,

        Re: “However, I feel uncomfortable with the idea that trauma causes chemical changes that lead to bipolar disorder, characterized by ‘affect dysregulation and disorders of the self.’ There was a time when I spoke and thought like that. It may work for you, but not for me.”

        I’ve made comments that trauma can cause chemical changes in the body and brain, because it CAN. I have NEVER said I believe it can cause “bipolar disorder.” In fact, I have said *countless times* that “severe mental illness” has *root causes* – to include underlying physical conditions, or need to overcome emotional trauma. The point being that these things can be addressed, and a person can become “weller than well.”

        Please give fellow readers the opportunity to express themselves without *assumptions”, before you publicly outline what they did NOT say.



        P.S.: I choose not to respond to either you or Seth any more on this post (thread). Neither of you have been elected as representatives of this group.

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  2. Have enjoyed what I’ve seen of Dan Fisher’s posts and hope we can get him to speak in this area of of the highest rates of neuroleptic prescribing in the country and the attitudes which go along with it (http://news.health.com/2013/02/01/psychiatric-drugs-more-often-prescribed-in-the-south/). Since Dan is talking dreams, I add one of my own here:

    Was walking near entrance of a laboratory where the worst infectious diseases are studied. Hazmat suits hung on a hook outside the laboratory. Assumed laboratory for studying this class of infectious disease was on the top floor. Labs studying less infectious diseases were on lower floors. Felt I was being required to walk through lab on top floor without hazmat suit. Next dream image — was in very cramped room, although sunlit, there was no space to sit down. Felt room was in the same building as the laboratories.

    Felt the infectious disease laboratory, which I was required to walk through, represented mainstream and psychiatric propaganda and social pressure to conform to it and make it part of my own belief system. Top floor might have meant orders came from the most empowered and influential people as psychiatric treatment is perhaps the last socially and legally sanctioned hate crime, maintaining its strongest hold before it finally lets go. Walking through the lab without a hazmat suit was a job requirement. Finding myself in the cramped room with no place to sit down and get comfortable perhaps represented isolation and punishment for being at odds with the system, lack of humane alternatives, and ongoing issues with iatrogenic trauma and retraumatization.

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    • Metal Rabbit, I would be glad to speak in your area of the country. I wonder if you could share where that might be? How do you know how much medication is used in your region? That would be a useful stat to keep track of.
      Your dream is intriguing. Interpreting the infectious diseases as mental health conditions is likening the them to the dominant medical model of life.

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      • Study was done at Yale, breaking down use of psych drugs into regional clusters. They found that the use of psych drugs is 40 percent higher in a large section of the South and “Antipsychotics were most commonly used in Gainesville, Fla., where 4.6 percent of local residents took the drugs, compared with a national average of 0.8 percent.” I don’t know if we have any chance of persuading the local mh consortium in Gainesville, FL to sponsor you as a speaker, but we keep hoping and trying. Info on Yale study: http://news.health.com/2013/02/01/psychiatric-drugs-more-often-prescribed-in-the-south/

        BTW, I don’t interpret mh labels as infectious disease. It’s the pervasive “broken brain” consciousness, which is so prevalent in the mainstream, which is symbolized as infectious disease.

        As far as stories which tell of rumor of infectious disease, I like the movie, Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

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  3. Dan
    Great piece. Reminds me of my own first alternative theoretical critique of “mental illness.” By the time I finished my Ph.D in 1984 I had rejected the mental illness construct but it took a few years before I developed my critique and alternative. Although I was influenced primarily by Laing and Szasz my interpretation was different. It derived from an intuition like yours I think. It was based on my own experience because in grad school I had been Freudian and from the psychoanalytic perspective although I had never been labeled “mentally ill” I was a flawed “neurotic” human being, not as bad as the schizophrenic, but still there was “something wrong” with me––as there is from this perspective with virtually everyone. I had accepted this and it kept me in a state of dis–ease.

    At one point I realized that if I regarded my clients as pathological it reinforced the sense of myself as pathological, and vice versa. In the next few years I worked out my critique of the psychoanalytical view, at the same time freeing myself from the idea that I was defective. My emphasis was different than Szasz’s or Laing’s––as I believed the defining idea about the pathological self was that it was flawed, was tainted by original sin. It was the soul that they meant was essentially defective but in the secular age we no longer spoke of souls.

    I researched the original sin narrative. It derived from Augustine not Jesus, not the Jewish Bible, not even from St Paul –but it was based partially on Augustine’s mistranslation of Paul. This narrative was muted by the Church and reaffirmed by Luther and Calvin, both ardent followers of Augustine. In the Augustinian narrative of original sin, all were guilty of Adam’s sin and only a tiny minority was saved, predestined for salvation–– and even they did not deserve it. All deserved to burn in hell. But EASTERN Christianity rejected original sin.(And thus I became a member of the Orthodox Church ephemerally.) It too posited a myth of the Fall but the soul remained whole. It retained the image of God, its similitude to God. It was holy, it was divine––just as in the Eastern (Hindu) mystical tradition. It retained its freedom to return to God––it was not subject to predestination. God willed the salvation of all. The ultimate non-Augustinian Christian ideal was a full-orbed vision of cosmic redemption based upon a reunion of God and humanity, humanity and nature.

    I was surprised by the isomorphism between the Augustinian narrative and the modern psychoanalytic(e.g., object-relations) narrative. The neo-psychoanalytic narrative was not really progressive, not humanitarian, despite the good intentions of some of the analysts. It took the events in the life of the soul and emplotted it as a tragedy––only a small minority were saved.

    As I wrote, “Ironically, psychoanalysis is inexorably fixated on the past. The tragic strain that runs throughout neo-Freudian or psychoanalytic theory is based on the implicit idea that things were meant to be different, that we were meant to have had a different kind of childhood than the one we actually did have. This idea engenders further ruminations such as, ‘It did not have to have happened the way it did,’ or ‘It could have been different.’ Psychoanalysts have been writing a tragic story about the human situation.For the psychoanalyst, the vision of what could have been is vivid and resplendent, whereas the vision of what could be is at best tarnished and obscure. For the neo-Freudian, as for the Augustinian, the past is far more real than the future.” Thus the psyche rarely transcends its ontological deficiency.

    Of course the bio-psychiatric version of psychopathology lacks the religious resonances of the Freudian construct of “mental illness.” Nonetheless the term “mental illness” is still used, and still deleterious. The mental illness construct is a secularized scientistic version of original sin. The narrative is very different today with the triumph of bio-psychiatry, but the self is still described in terms that are reductionist and demeaning. The idea of psychopathology is still based upon deviation from behavioral norms. Today these are supposedly symptoms of the genetically defective brain. The idea of redemption has been dispensed with altogether. The defective individual is given meds so she can function. From the bio-psychiatric viewpoint no one has much to look forward to–there is no vision of individual or cosmic redemption.

    The healthy person in the bio-psychiatric view is a well functioning machine which fits into society, goes to work and contributes to the maintenance and growth of the corporate order. Ironically one of the products produced by the corporate order is a variety of psychiatric “medications” – primarily “anti-psychotics” and “anti-depressants” (SSRIs). Close to half the population is now on psychiatric drugs. Increasingly one is either “psychotic,” (including bipolars) or “depressed” as David Healy has pointed out. Anti-psychotics often prevent psychotics from recovering and contributing to society. Anti-depressants frequently lead the depressed to go beserk and to violently lash out at everyone around them.

    My hope lies with those among both groups, who refuse to do what they told and insist on affirming the wholeness, holiness and potency of the human soul. That is the first step toward social transformation, toward cosmic redemption.
    Seth Farber, Ph.D.

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    • Seth,

      I can appreciate the fact that you’re a member of the Eastern Orthodox Church. I’m not sure what you hope to gain by making disparaging comments about St. Augustine. Some of the readers on this site (including me) are Roman Catholic.

      Which brings to mind a larger issue. I continue to read comments on this site that are anti-capitalist (free market), anti-religion (especially Christianity), anti-military (those who have family members in the service), and anti-southern (painting ignorance geographically, with a broad brush).

      This seems rather strange, for a group that demands to be respected for its diversity. It alienates people like myself (someone who is dismissed with each of these stereotypes listed above).

      Imagine what happens to those who are not “in the choir”…
      Those whose hearts and minds we are trying to win over in this revolution of sorts?




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  4. Dan,

    There was enormous success with Loren Mosher’s Soteria Project – one that was done as an experiment, with no expectations of what might happen; no pre-conceived notions on the part of either the “patients” or (untrained) staff. Enormous recovery rates were shown.

    Imagine if the staff and (more importantly), those receiving support expected recovery.

    “Expect recovery” ought to be etched in stone – every facility providing treatment, and in the training manual of every professional working in the mental health field.

    More importantly, it ought to engraved in the heart and mind of every person who first seeks treatment.

    We make all of this so complex.
    Let’s keep it simple.
    Let’s provide more safe places for people to overcome and move beyond.

    Let’s begin to “expect recovery!”


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  5. Duane
    I did not say that I am a member of the Orthodox Church. I said I was a member. Although I was not kicked out..but I became disillusioned.
    I did not expect Duane that anyone would be offended. No one ever was before–including Roman Catholics. But even if I had, the truth is the truth.
    You don’t know that much about your Church because the Romans never did accept Augustine’s theories. Today most Catholics would be as appalled by St Augustine’s theories as I am. I am referring to The City of God. At any rate outside of Opus Dei there would be few Catholics who would object to my criticizing Augustine’s belief that the majority of human beings are destined to burn eternally in hell. Even unbaptized infants. Even some baptized infants.Even the Pope would not defend such beliefs. Augustine was sainted but he was not the spiritual Mentor of the Church–Aquinas was. If you don’t think idea like predestination to eternal torment or that we all DESERVE to burn because of original sin should be criticized then I don’t have much hope for you anyway. Furthermore should a belief be exempted from criticism just because the Church or any institution condones it? Most Catholics don’t agree with you Duane.
    You probably are not even consistent. Do you condemn the use of birth control?
    The target of my criticism wasn’t Augustine anyway, it was Freud and the mental health system. Those who embrace Augustinian ideas are not Catholics but fundamentalists–and perhaps Opus Dei…
    But Jesus Christ decried the organization of violence in The Sermon on the Mount and in the name of Christianity itself(I still consider myself a neo-Christian) I must criticize the US military machine, an organization that violates the principles of CHristianity. I suggest you read Dorothy Day and Daniel Berrigan. Or don’t they count as Catholics? Dorothy Day is being considered for sainthood. She opposed all killing and thus she regarded the military as a contradiction of Christianity. She did not attack members of the military–that’s not the point.She did not like capitalism either. But no one accused her of being a bad Catholic. I don’t think you are even familiar with Catholic social teaching–which has influenced me.
    Southern Christians defended slavery. Should abolitionists refrained from condemning slavery–so as not to offend white Southern CHristians? Wow.
    I agree with your second letter. The Pygmalion effect shows the efficacy of expecting improvement–as does the placebo effect.
    Best, Seth

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    • My, my, you guys do seem to be getting down the God conflicted crux of the mental health debate in America?

      You know evolution is just another word God, when you learn to think in metaphor rather than seek a need for certainty/security in reading mythology so literally.

      For example, if Jesus did not even exist, as many like Peter Joseph believe, is it because his story is a metaphor’d story about the evolution of our conscious mind?

      Surely in the 21st century A.D. its time to go beyond this childish sense of MY GOD and its elitist exclusions of the majority of the human race.

      Time to understand emotional needs and their projections as fantasy, the attachment need that projects an as if “my father were in heaven?” And were is the female balance to creation in this patriarchal urge for dominance?

      Is it about male performance anxiety? Or the feeling of impotence beside the birth scene when we can only stand by feeling totally inadequate at mother nature’s power of creation? Does a sense of impotence drive the male edifice complex? And a fantasy need for a sense of omnipotence?

      Even on this very day, we have the Pope wondering out loud, whether God has been sleeping lately?

      Time to pause and feel that inner sense of insecurity which drives this ridiculous division in the children of the light. ALL the world’s mythologies and modern science are preaching the same “existential” message, when we give up this tribal need to sooth insecurity, and admit the drive for cultural dominance in America’s and we Caucasian’s, so-called sense of freedom.

      Best wishes,

      David Bates.

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  6. Duane
    Evidently you are unable to intellectually refute my explanation so you resort to name calling. Shame on you.
    Let me repeat: There is nothing anti-Catholic in my statement. People within the Catholic Church have made comparable criticism of St Augustine. Augustine’s theory on original sin was never even accepted by the Church.
    Second the greatest Christians beginning with Jesus were pacifists. They thus opposed the military as an institution. In modern times there was Tolstoy, Stanley Hauerwas, John Howard Yoder–and all the Christians in Mennonite and other peace churches.Within Roman Catholic Church there is the Catholic Worker, founded by Dorothy Day. Have you never read Dorothy Day or any of the many works of Rev Daniel Berrigan? The late Phil Berrigan, who remained a Catholic after he left the clergy, spent at least half of his life in prison–for protesting US war machine. In the name of Christ Phillip and comrades snuck into US military installations and began hammering away at US missiles–his group was based on the invocation to beat one weapons into plowshares. You have accused me of prejudice. Is it beyond your ability to comprehend that there are Christians who are as Christian as you are who have a different understanding of Christianity, and therefore different moral convictions? ? And that there are people who post here who are morally opposed to US wars?

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    • You don’t know anything about me.
      About my life and the role faith plays in my life.
      About my family and their military service.
      About what books I read/don’t read.
      About the half century I’ve spent in Texas.
      About my politics or religion.
      About my feelings about war.
      Or economics.
      Or justice.
      Or mercy.
      Or redemption, forgiveness, grace.

      I have no other comment.
      Other than I hope Dan Fisher will forgive me for the one I left for him.

      I am truly sorry, Dan.


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      • Dear Duane,

        Try thinking in metaphor about your earnest belief system? Like “Daniel in the Lion’s Den” for example, as a metaphor’d story about the human mind and the heart?

        For it is the heart which “tones” the mind and muscular tensions which en-train our thoughts.

        The retiring Pope’s use of the “God appears to sleeping” was a call to a renewal of faith in our existential destiny as a sentient species.

        At first glance, a lot of my comments seem anti-christian, yet that is not the reality of how I feel. I do believe in scripture, I just read it in a more inclusive way, which takes modernity into consideration along with all that profound and “dream-like” ancient wisdom.

        I believe its time to re-interpret Biblical prophecy with a less “fearful” and literal interpretation. IMO The crux of the God conflicted debate in mental health, is the fearful assumption that psychosis is BAD, a negative experience which is to be denied, rather than embraced, the way it is in all the worlds spiritual traditions, including Christianity.

        Please consider this excerpt from a good Catholic girl, about the fearful, “perverted” and misogynistic sense of the “body” in our male dominated spiritual traditions, where “power” is driving force, not “love.”

        “Forms of God:

        What has occluded the recognition of the body’s primary intelligence (the logics embedded in systems such as the DNA code, as distinct from the embedded affects that intensify disorder) are the affects. They do this through the stumbling blocks they place in the way of reasoning and through a foundational fantasy understanding of form as something distinct and imposed from above, which has its effects on intellectual work. When the idea of a supersensible God was deconstructed for the fiction that it is, the deconstruction accepted terms which resulted from the splitting of mind and body, individual and environment, and codes of living logic.

        Deconstruction’s poststructuralist position accepts these terms, and denies the embodied logic of the flesh. Deny it, whenever it is claimed–however tacitly–that humans are nonetheless more intelligent than that which interweaves nature’s living logic. Here, intellect is bowed down by the affects, which cut’s intellect off from the feeling, discerning mechanisms which otherwise would link language with sensations. Here, is a trend to objectification in Western psychology, which has proceeded on the basis that it is best to make people as much like objects as possible, in order to be able to study them in controlled and replicable ways.
        We know more about human capacities at their most mechanistic, than we do at their most subtle and refined. (p, 158.)

        The fact that we ingest so much of what is not good for us as bodies, suggests that the body has been mistakenly cast as the enemy in the received understanding of Christian ascetic thought, even though mystics of Christian and other faiths discern that the opposite is true. Through sustaining living attention by concentration, the mystic enters into a timeless state which eventually yields an experience which is evidently sensual and spiritual. It seems in this experience that the soul attains its desire of union with the body, and does so through the regulation of its passions, thoughts and feelings. Yet the descriptions of such union can be read as forms of hysteria.

        Descriptions of the souls union are attempts at putting such extraordinary experience–capturing some part of the union of spirit and sensuality which was lost to us with the fall into a divided mind and body–into our feeble form of inadequate words. If we have not experienced such a union of sense and soul, we will tend to read the descriptions of it as somewhat hysterical, when in fact the descriptions are of a state yet to come to us, or be found by us. Mistaken interpretation is made easily in a worldview where psyches (or souls) are seen as self-contained entities, rather than known as expressions of life’s intentions, which struggle within them. (p, 159.)

        Extending attention into the flesh is simultaneously an exploration of the affects which have captured individual souls as well as crowds of souls. In such an exploration we begin to come to terms with what our age of reason and individualism has excluded from consciousness. The few deep breaths taken by Kant’s angry man represent the beginning of a vastly more extensive and conscious knowledge of bodily processes.

        It is known that interference with parasympathetic regulation by anxiety or other negative affects (anger, or the inverted anger and anxiety of depression) can be lessened by attempting the conscious regulation involved in attentive breathing. The most advanced practitioners of some forms of yoga are capable of regulating areas under the control of the autonomic nervous system, such as heart rate. As these practices of pathways into bodily awareness are brought into alignment with their simultaneous intellectual exploration, we may yet come to understand what Spinoza meant by knowledge as the pathway to becoming one again with God. (p, 161.)

        The Resurrection of the Body:

        With the resurrection of the body and its projected and introjected energetic affects, we also resurrect the specter of ancient demons as the negative affects to be struggled against within and without. But once it is recognized that these affect demons are families of affective energy patterns that can be undone, they can be converted back into living energy as they are released from distorting blocks of inertia and repression. Then these families of negative affect have no power to whip up the superstition, anger and anxiety that prevail when their unconscious capabilities become so ego inflated through judgment and projection. (p, 164.)

        Excerpts from “The Transmission of Affect” by Teresa Brennan, PhD.

        The reason I post so much information from modern neurobiology is because I do believe that we are living through a very practical “prophecy of Resurrection.” Once we let go of a subconscious need to view the world in terms of “us & them.”

        Best wishes,


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        • David,

          I’ve been reading your comments for many months and have never read anything that from you that has ever been (even remotely) disrespectful to anyone else. You come across as someone who is very sincere and always engaging.

          I have no problem with seeing *some* of scripture as metaphoric, nor do I expect everyone to share my beliefs in those parts that some of us take quite literally.

          In fact, I have come to understand that no two people share the exact same understanding of reality.

          My only point was that a group that espouses to be *diverse* ought to begin to *act* more diverse.

          IMO, if our movement is to succeed, it must be open to developing an openness toward folks who may be (ironically) *different* than the majority of the readership on MIA.

          I short, open to people with diverse political and economic thought (including conservative and libertarian thought); open to folks from all walks of life (academics as well as those with little formal education); open to people from all areas of the country (including the deep south and appalachia); open towards not only agnostics, deeply spiritual, and devoutly *religious*; pacifists and those who choose to protect and defend; “enlightened” as well as those who see life in much simpler terms.

          Seth, I hope we can move beyond our exchange. I would like to start by saying, “I’m sorry” for reacting rather than responding; for not taking time to listen and understand, even if our spirituality (religion) is not the same.



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  7. Thank you for this comment, Duane; I really mean that.

    A lot of people here will have been to hell and back because at some point in their lives someone who didn’t really know anything about them and had no interest whatsoever in learning anything about them thought that they knew everything there was to know about them.

    This made me think of something Pope Benedict XVI -a man for whom I have nothing but the greatest respect- wrote some time ago; I think it’s only fitting to quote it on the day he retires:

    “At times one gets the impression that our society needs to have at least one group to which no tolerance may be shown; which one can easily attack and hate. And should someone dare to approach them – in this case the Pope – he too loses any right to tolerance; he too can be treated hatefully, without misgiving or restraint.
    Dear Brothers, during the days when I first had the idea of writing this letter, by chance, during a visit to the Roman Seminary, I had to interpret and comment on Galatians 5:13-15. I was surprised at the directness with which that passage speaks to us about the present moment: “Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’. But if you bite and devour one another, take heed that you are not consumed by one another.” I am always tempted to see these words as another of the rhetorical excesses which we occasionally find in Saint Paul. To some extent that may also be the case. But sad to say, this “biting and devouring” also exists in the Church today, as expression of a poorly understood freedom. Should we be surprised that we too are no better than the Galatians? That at the very least we are threatened by the same temptations? That we must always learn anew the proper use of freedom? And that we must always learn anew the supreme priority, which is love?”

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    • Morias,

      Thank you for the kind words and the quote from the Holy Father as well.

      As I reflect on my comments – not only on this post, but certainly on others as well, I am reminded of just how much more growth I have left to achieve. I’ve certainly made my fair share of mistakes on this site, and have fallen short in many ways.

      I think love is not only the greatest healer, but perhaps the only real healer. And I know I’ve got a long way to go.

      Your message is a wake-up call for yours truly today, especially during this Lenten season.

      Thank you again.


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      • We all have a long way to go. In a way, I think the worst thing that can happen to us is that we forget that.

        Your poem -that’s what it is to me- really struck me. You can tell there’s anger in it but at the same time it has genuine honesty, and that is very powerful (and I say this as someone who reads a lot). It’s a very good reminder that it isn’t just psychiatrists who label people.

        All this talk of Saint Augustin, and then thinking of Benedict XVI, has made me think of Benedict’s encyclical “Spe Salvi” where he comments extensively on some of Augustin’s ideas. It’s a great piece of writing regardless of what your beliefs or disbeliefs might be:


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        • Morias,

          I’ve left too many comments on this post, but would like to express my gratitude for your kind words.

          I will spend more time on Pope Benedict’s encyclical this weekend. I appreciated these words from the “German Shepherd”:

          “Our lives are involved with one another, through innumerable interactions they are linked together. No one lives alone. No one sins alone. No one is saved alone. The lives of others continually spill over into mine: in what I think, say, do and achieve.”

          He is quite the professor and writer. He remains a blessing to the Church.

          Yours in faith,


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  8. Where our mental health system fails to create environments which foster recovery it is ironic that so much effort goes into collecting stories of recovery, “… recovery stories to kick off a “National Dialogue about Recovery and Hope.'” Perhaps it is their rarity which makes them so special and that is both troubling and real.

    I would much prefer some evidence that our mental health system is undergoing the transformation which was to have led to “The Era of Recovery.” If anyone can provide this evidence I would greatly appreciate it.

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  9. Seth,

    (copied/pasted from comment to David, above)

    Seth, I hope we can move beyond our exchange. I would like to start by saying, “I’m sorry” for reacting rather than responding; for not taking time to listen and understand, even if our spirituality (religion) is not the same.



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  10. Does anyone ever consider that the frightening and negative messages of our organized religions and the conflicts between the religions may be making us sick? If not getting to us consciously then subconsciously? Maybe the wars which are fought over religion are also fought in the subliminal realm? This thought has come to me from time to time. No way to prove or disprove. Maybe tally up the delegates from each religion in the psych ward UN. I can’t say I’ve been all that interested in these lengthy discussions on religion. Prefer dreams, stories, myths and reinventing myths. Less prone to arguments. More prone to creative invention.

    Stay grounded and centered when the shift flies,


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  11. Dear Dr. Fisher,

    I owe a debt of gratitude to you. Fighting the saddle of permanent mental illness most of my adult life as a bipolar, when a neurolyptic was added to my Tegretal I quickly advanced to schizo affective disorder. My belief I could be well and my faith that God did will anyone to be mentally ill shattered. I accepted that I would have a dire future of medicated madness, almost continually contemplating suicide to end it all.

    Then I saw a short video of you in a ‘recovery’ group at the state hospital. (‘Recovery’ here means how to manage your life on medication. This video was really out of character.) You told the interviewer that you were diagnosed but now you were a psychiatrist. You said love heals. My old hope revived. When I was released from the state hospital I found your office and your secretary guided me to ALTERNATIVE MENTAL HEALTH web site to find a psychiatrist like you.

    Some two years later, having weaned off my meds under a doctor’s supervision, I found myself in trouble. Spiritually for the seven years I had been on neurolyptics I was slumbering, numb. When I woke up, I became aware that my major supports had crumbled, my church where I attended and confessed and a monastery I visited regularly. I discovered that the bishopry had been occupied by members of a mystery religion. By mystery religion I mean the rites that had been brought back by the Knights of the Templar from Babylon to western Europe in the 10th century. Rituals of anti-christian powers have been at work since then, splitting and carving up the Body of Christ and seeking control that mounted to the centers of power in the Christian churches. They had overpowered the Papacy. The Jesuit created the World Counsel of Churches to draw in most Protestant denominations and the hierarchs of the Orthodox churches. The plans for this quasi-unifid body I won’t go into. I will say it is meant to be a locus of control.
    The Orthodox church just requires a right believing priest and a right believing Bishop. I discovered a plan to replace the all Orthodox bishops in the US with mystery religion practitioners.
    The Orthodox churches would be grouped together in this country. There would be one presiding bishop for each region. If there were mostly Greeks in that region, the bishop would be Greek. If there were mostly OCA, the bishop would be from the OCA. Those two groups would dominate every region. Those two groups are infested with mystery religion practitioners at the level of bishop and above. I saw this sinister plot! I must warn who I can.

    I sent emails. I sent copies to my best friend. I was protecting myself. I had dealt with these hidden power mongers before when my son was being drawn into a homosexual pornographic filmmaking ring by a church councilman. That and pedophilia are considered spiritual delights in the highest mystery rituals. I was instructed by an ex-cop friend to keep copies of communications with a safe friend and inform the priest who threatened me and my children’s safety that such a file existed, and it would be opened if something happened to us.
    My best friend read these copies. She told me I was crazy. I needed to go back on my meds. There was no anti-christ.
    Well, I was on my way to a little Orthodox church to visit for the first time and discuss these things with the priest–how would he feel if his bishop was replaced by a Greek or an OCA? As I turned onto the road where the church was, I saw headlights in my rear view mirror. The truck was not slowing down, They were not stopping. Bam! I was spun out of control.
    The truck was an 18 wheeler. My car was totaled. I wasn’t hurt.
    The ambulance and the cops left. I was able to drive the block down to the church. I had a long talk to the priest.
    I had used my cell phone to tell a friend I was in the area. At 1:00pm I had told her I would be going to the Serbian church in Kernersville for 5:30 vespers. Could I be surveilled? Was the truck driver sent to hit me?
    My family thought I was nuts. My ex-best friend called my daughter, and told her she thought I was getting sick again. My youngest son wanted to take me for an evaluation.
    By the third evaluation, I lost it. My son had taken me to a hospital that had a psych ward where patients could receive ECT. I went in protesting loudly of the practice.
    Well, I took the sleeping meds for three days and when I re established my sleep patterns I quit. I took the Tegretal. When I took the zyprexa, I immediately fell on the floor. The doctor cut the dose in half and even on a lower dose, I thought I was dying and went to the phone and dialed 911. EMTs came. The doctor insisted I take the poison, so I cheeked it.
    My psychiatrist before I went to the alternative psychiatrist was my attending doctor. He went on vacation and the head of psychiatry took care of me. We talked about extra receptors. I told him about ANATOMY. He downloaded it right in front of me.He found MAD IN AMERICA and downloaded it. He later thanked me. I told him I was cheeking. He told me to tell my doctor when he returned.
    My old doctor came in and announced I was going to the state hospital. I told him I was cheeking, and I was fine. He yelled at me that I was hyper religious and ultra paranoid. (The psych techs record everything patients say.)
    At the state hospital, they allowed me to refuse the zyprexa. My family backed me up. At the end of the 30 days commitment, my psychiatrist went for 180 days, arguing that although I was not a danger to myself or anybody, because I did this horrible self harm 5 years ago, I needed to be maintained on neurolyptics. She prescribed Latuda. I cheeked it. I appealed my commitment.
    Now I get to the point of this long story. My lawyer totally discouraged me from pursuing my appeal. The courts had never heard anything other than the medical model and to argue that the self harm the doctor was so concerned about I did because of the antipsychotic I was taking (I was in an abrupt withdrawal neurolyptic psychosis) would never fly. I did not relent.
    There came in a new director. He came thought the units. He and I chatted. He had read ANATOMY. I told him I had appealed my commitment. I told him how the self harm I did was caused my the withdrawal of the drug. I told him I was taught incorrectly at his institution, and he should see that that is changed. He asked me when my trial was. This was Tuesday.
    Thursday I met with my lawyer who conference-called my alternative psychiatrist. The judge was going to take his testimony over the phone. As I talked to my doctor about the extra receptors, etc, my lawyer began to see it.
    Friday my social worker pays me a visit. “I’m trying to get you discharged next week,” she said. I told her I would still proceed with the appeal because discharges can often not work out. That night I was nailed. The nurse caught me cheeking.
    Monday my social worker came to me and asked if it was ok if I be discharged the next day? Could I get a ride home? Yes. I was consulting the state’s advocate. She said not to cancel the hearing until I was out the door.
    I had hoped maybe the new director would change the institution. He had read ANATOMY. I’m afraid he’s guarding the institution from the courts hearing the truth. Is not that a sad, wicked thing? That’s my point.
    Robert had asked me to write my recovery story, Dr.Fisher. I had written a good piece, focusing on what your recovery story had done for me, hoping mine would be the same for someone else. Now, what do I write? I’ve had another breakdown. My family now knows that I have written down what is helpful, what are my warning signs, what I need to do to stay well. Going over this is what they need to do before rushing me to the hospital.
    I’m arranging to talk to my psychologist every week over Skype and I’m talking to friends I made this ‘visit’. I’m looking into the Indian Orthodox Church. No mystery stuff in India. They have a missionary church not too terribly far a way.
    And if I do get in a crisis again, my kids agree, we’ra crossing the state line to a hospital where the commitment laws are still “imminent danger.’
    And my paranoia was not so far fetched. A student nurse whose father is a chaplain, non-denominational, followed my story right along. A Moslem listened, explaining he had studied all about mystery religions in the Library of Congress. He asked me what if I was assassinated. And on a church pass with my skeptic son, a member of that Serbian church was yn the congregation of the Greek church. He had discussed me concerns with his sister. She was knowledgeable about these things. Her message to me was that these designs on the church would take a long time to come to pass. We need just focus on our own spiritual needs for now.
    I hope Dr. Fisher, you read my thanks. I hope one day to shake your hand. There are maybe a few agnostics in the crazy house, but there are a lot of folks who are calling upon the Lord, One, my roommate, actively seeks the aid of Satan. No atheists, that’s for sure.
    I passed out a lot of business cards with my web site address on it.I spoke up as often as I could, and this time I left a part of myself there. I got to know the stories of almost everyone there civilly, and a few IGRI inmates. Some had been there for close to two decades. Some are completely forgotten by their families.
    The survivor movement has taken a several strong blows this year. David’s horrific accident and now the cancellation of the rally in San Francisco. We mustn’t give up. When I close my eyes I see a face. Let’s do want we can.

    Shaken, but OK,


    PS Our traumas don’t change our brain chemistry, they change our energy pathways. Our defense mechanism, fight/flight/freeze, gets stuck in the ‘on’ position. Energy medicine can fix this.


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  12. Rabbit,
    That the Hitchens’ thesis. But I don’t accept it. I don’t think religion is any more the source of the conflict than secular ideologies.
    Place the blame on ego,greed,fanaticism, tribalism–but not religion per se.
    In the last few decades we’ve seen people place their allegiance to the INSTITUTION, including but not exclusively religious institutions over ethical obligations
    Religion is just as frequently a source for good.
    I think you like Hitchens and Dawkins would throw out the baby with the bathwater…
    PS You know your namesake is the creation of a Christian novelist?

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  13. I wonder if it is possible to have a conversation about the actual post and leave these sideline religious diatribes (yawn) and personal back-and-forths (yawn) to some other forum? Totally inappropriate and uninteresting and I have to scroll though miles of long-winded crapola to get to the responses that are relevant to the actual post. Can we let go of the urgency of blurting out every thought we have? I’m not saying that I am not interested in these particular individuals’ comments when they are on-topic – they usually have lots of substantive comments I find valuable. I’m also not saying they are not important discussions to have, but might I suggest that this is not the place? Sorry for the bad language, but this gets frustrating.

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    • Lowry, while I agree with you that this thread has gone off-topic, and that isn’t very fair on Daniel Fisher (or you), I also notice that the title of his article is “We are Whole People, Not Broken Brains”. And shouldn’t ‘whole people’ be able to -occasionally- go off-topic to talk about what’s on their minds?
      I don’t think it’s so bad to go off-topic from time to time, provided, I agree, it does not become the norm. It’s a way of getting to know each other, even if it means getting angry with each other, and apologizing, and accepting apologies; it’s part of the ‘community’ part of this site. These things might be as important for recovery as challenging the biological model of psychiatry; I don’t think we should be so quick to dismiss them.

      But yes, it is true that we have strayed from topic; perhaps we can get back to it via Saint Augustine himself (I know, I know, I’m sorry):

      “How stupid man is to be unable to restrain feelings in suffering the human lot! That was my state at the time. So I boiled with anger, sighed, wept, and was at my wits’ end. I found no calmness, no capacity for deliberation. I carried my lacerated and bloody soul when it was unwilling to be carried by me. I found no place where I could put it down. There was no rest in pleasant groves, nor in games and songs, nor in sweet-scented places, nor in exquisite feasts, nor in the pleasures of the bedroom and bed, nor, finally, in books and poetry. Everything was an object of horror, even light itself; all that was not he made me feel sick and was repulsive – except for groaning and tears. In them alone was there some relief. But when my weeping stopped, my soul felt burdened by a vast load of misery. I should have lifted myself to you, Lord, to find a cure. I knew that, but I did not wish it or have the strength for it. When I thought of you, my mental image was not of anything solid and firm; it was not you but a vain phantom. My error was my god.”
      Confessions. IV. vii (12)

      What chances would Augustine have to not end up on a life-long course of medication if he was living in the US or Europe today? What chances of making anything of himself -let alone of writing books which would change the course of history- after being diagnosed with, say, bipolar psychosis?
      Now, I don’t know if being told you have a broken brain reduces stigma or doesn’t, but I’m pretty sure it does not make you feel great about your chances of making some contribution to the world around you, and if you take that away from people you don’t leave them much, do you?

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  14. “I feel uncomfortable with the idea that trauma causes chemical changes that lead to bipolar disorder.” _Daniel Fisher, M.D., Ph.D.

    Its interesting the way we use the metaphor ‘chemical imbalance’ as a bonding exercise here on MIA, which in my view tends to cloud and deny our own experience. The catchphrase biological psychiatry is used in the same, “we’re different to them” group need, which clings to this strange worldview that we are not biological creatures.

    That our individual “subjective” experience is not “in fact” a product of biology, people even speak of “energy” and pathways, as if the human organism’s energy where not based on biology and its chemistry. No wonder we’re not taken seriously, when we so pervert our own reality for the sake of social-politics here.

    Here’s an example of a therapeutic approach to early trauma, not “stuck” in the need to use metaphors of our biology, in the rationalizations of us vs them, group social politics;

    “Chapter 8. The Beginning of Our Identity.

    “When there is early trauma, the ensuing biological dysregulation forms the shaky foundation upon which the psychological self is built.”

    Individuals with early trauma experience symptoms on a continuum of less to greater dysfunction depending on the degree of trauma and the coping survival strategies they have developed. Since early trauma is more widespread than commonly recognized, most adults are affected by some elements of the Connection Survival Style. Those on the more symptomatic end of the continuum have experienced years of emotional struggle as well as many challenging physiological problems. Their efforts to understand and come to terms with their deep-seated physiological and emotional distress often leave them filled with shame and self-hatred. Early trauma is difficult and confusing not only for those who have experienced it but also for those who treat it.


    In NARM, Connection is the name given to the first stage of human development and the first organizing life principle. The Connection Survival Style develops as a way of coping with early shock, developmental and/ or attachment trauma, and as a result of feeling unloved, unprotected, and unsupported in the first stage of life. In reaction to trauma, infants experience their environment as threatening and dangerous; their reaction is to cling to others or to withdraw into themselves.

    Recognizing the Symptoms of Early Trauma:

    Do you prefer to recharge your batteries by being alone rather than with other people?
    Did you need glasses at an early age?
    Do you suffer from environmental sensitivities or multiple allergies?
    Do you have migraines, chronic fatigue syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, or fibromyalgia?
    Did you experience prenatal trauma such as intrauterine surgeries, prematurity with incubation, or traumatic events during gestation?
    Were there complications at your birth?
    Have you had problems maintaining relationships?
    Were you adopted?
    Do you have difficulty knowing what you are feeling?
    Would others describe you as more intellectual than emotional?
    Do you have disdain for people who are emotional?
    Are you particularly sensitive to cold?
    Do you often have the feeling that life is overwhelming and you don’t have the energy to deal with it?
    Do you prefer working in situations that require theoretical or mechanical skills rather than people skills?
    Are you troubled by the persistent feeling that you don’t belong?
    Are you always looking for the why of things?
    Are you uncomfortable in groups or social situations?
    Does the world seem like a dangerous place to you?

    The identity of adults with early trauma is shaped by the distress and dysregulation they experienced in early life. Our earliest trauma and attachment experiences form a template for lifelong psychological, physiological, and relational patterns. Difficulties in the initial Connection stage of development undermine healthy psychological progression through all later stages of development, impacting self-image, self-esteem, and the capacity for healthy relationships. Trauma in the Connection stage becomes the basis for diverse cognitive, emotional, and physiological problems. Table 8.2 lists common sources of the two principle kinds of early trauma: developmental/ relational and shock trauma.

    The Distress Cycle in the Connection Stage :

    During this first stage of life, the fetus and infant are completely dependent on caregivers and on a benevolent environment. As a result of this complete vulnerability, an infant’s reaction to early developmental or shock trauma is one of overwhelmingly high arousal and terror. The vulnerable infant, who can neither fight nor flee, cannot discharge the high arousal and responds to threat with physiological constriction, contraction, core withdrawal, and immobility/ freeze.

    As with all living organisms, constriction, contraction, withdrawal, and freeze are the primitive defense mechanisms infants utilize to manage the high arousal of terrifying early trauma. In the infant, this combination of high arousal, contraction, and freeze creates systemic dysregulation that affects all of the body’s biological systems.

    When trauma occurs early in the development of the neocortex and before the hippocampus comes online, many individuals show symptoms of developmental posttraumatic stress yet have no conscious memories of traumatic events. Early trauma is held implicitly in the body and brain, resulting in a systemic dysregulation that is confusing for people who exhibit symptoms of traumas they cannot remember. It is equally confusing for the clinicians who want to help them.


    It is useful to distinguish four phases during which traumatic experiences form the Connection Survival Style: (1) prenatal trauma and prenatal attachment; (2) birth trauma; (3) perinatal trauma; and (4) attachment and relational trauma, which include neglect, abuse, and ongoing threat. Each phase flows into and influences the next. Early trauma impacts the body, nervous system, and developing psyche, and its effects are cumulative. Trauma experienced in an early phase of development makes a child more vulnerable to trauma in later phases of development. For example, prenatal trauma can make birth more difficult, and a traumatic birth can affect the subsequent process of attachment. The topics of prenatal and perinatal trauma, neglect, abuse, and adoption would require books of their own to do them justice. This chapter can only highlight some of the significant elements in each of these areas and describe how they are relevant to the development of the Connection Survival Style. Symptoms that are present in varying degrees when there is trauma in the first four phases of development are:
    • A sense of constant threat
    • High arousal
    • A thwarted fight response
    • Freeze-dissociation
    • Numbing, splitting, fragmentation
    • Acting in and acting out of aggression
    • Diminished aliveness

    It is important to understand that these symptoms may occur simultaneously, loop back upon themselves, and continuously reinforce one another.

    Prenatal Trauma and Prenatal Attachment:

    The prenatal period is one of the least understood yet most significant phases of human development. Within a period of nine months, growth proceeds from a single cell to a fully formed infant.
    Until recently, the gestation process was viewed as primarily genetically determined, and prenatal development was considered to be relatively immune to external influences. As technology has advanced, a more sophisticated examination of the gestation process has become possible. It is now apparent that birth is not the beginning of a baby’s awareness, and that events in utero, both physiological and psychological, influence future development. It is now known that environmental influences, including the mother’s capacity to attach to her unborn baby, affect the developing fetus. Attachment Theory has focused on the relationship of the mother and infant after birth. Prenatal and perinatal specialists have been working to extend this focus to include the importance of the attachment process and other environmental influences before birth. Women have intuitively known for thousands of years that experiences during pregnancy impact their developing fetus. It is only recently that scientific evidence supports what women have always known.

    Prenatal psychobiological distress often underlies persistent anxiety and depressive states that have no other obvious etiology and are an important characteristic of developmental posttraumatic stress disorder that affects individuals with the Connection Survival Style.”

    Excerpts from: “Healing Developmental Trauma: How Early Trauma Affects Self-Regulation, Self-Image, and the Capacity for Relationship” Heller, Laurence Phd; Lapierre, Aline Psyd.

    It seems like a terrible “double-bind” that we must deny our own reality, in order to Minister to “ideology?” Perhaps the God Conflicted might ponder Moses injunction about NOT worshiping false “idols,” we might even read his Fatherly advise, as applying equally to “ideas?”

    We might also ponder our subconscious motivation in the groups political agenda and its “basic-assumption” which binds the group together;

    ” Bion’s major work, “Experiences in Groups,” was published in 1961. His starting point in groups, was the work of Melanie Klein and the mechanisms she ascribed to the earliest phases of mental life, mechanisms that involve psychotic defenses. These psychotic defenses persist in the life of all normal individuals to a greater or lesser extent, but they are especially characteristic of groups, and revealed in the “basic assumption” that binds the group together. (In “A New Earth,” Eckhart Tolle suggests that so-called normal group behavior in the 20th century can be described as essentially psychotic?)

    Generally, “basic assumptions” are about the affect/emotions of “anxiety, fear, hate and love.” Specifically, by a “basic assumption,” Bion means an assumption such as “the group exists for fight or flight,” or the group depends on a leader, or the group has hope based on a belief that through it a new messiah or solution will emerge. How thoroughly such an assumption holds varies, but a basic-assumption always exists. (p, 63.)

    The fight/flight assumption is fueled by hate and its close relative envy. The affect/emotions of envy, hate and aggression are directed towards the breast/mother (society), who’s creativity is envied in earliest psychical life. To deal with aggressive hatred and envy toward something which is also loved and “essential” for survival, one split’s the good and bad. One then fears, or has anxiety about retaliation, and is overwhelmed by hate and envy at the sight of, or fantasy of others merging without one, which leads to anxiety about being left out. Anxiety, exacerbates the paranoid-schizoid defense of splitting. (us vs. them)

    The results of splitting range from the psychical disavowal or denial of reality to the inability to make links between ideas. The split is healed by through the *realization* that there never was a bad breast/mother (them in society), there was only the aggression within oneself, and it is this, that made the breast/mother (them in society) bad.

    As in psychosis, and for that matter the unconscious, time plays no part in basic-assumption activity. “The basic-assumption group does not disperse or meet.” If the awareness of time is forced on a group in basic-assumption mode (as with the unconscious), it tends to arouse feelings of persecution. At some level the group (unconscious) is always in its basic-assumption, which means no member of the group can cease to be in it, even when the group is not gathered. The group remains a group through its basic-assumptions, by the resonances they trigger, and the positions (us & them) they assign. (p, 64.)

    Bion did not believe that basic-assumptions are all there is to group behavior though. He believed that there is a work aspect to groups, which does the job for which the group is formed, and the basic-assumption aspect, which acts on the basis of unconscious affect/emotion. The same group is simultaneously a work group and a basic-assumption group; and one or other of these aspects will dominate from time to time. This dual definition allows us to recognize that the group can be quite mad and yet apparently stable, organized and purposeful, as in the case of a cult. (p, 65.)

    The group can be apparently sane (a university department for instance) and yet occasionally irrational or persecutory in its dynamics. For the group can and usually is, organized around its work function. But, as it is also bound together by its basic-assumption, it is stressed that organization and basic-assumption bondage are radically different. As Bion articulates;

    “In contrast with work-group function basic-assumption activity makes no demands on the individual for a capacity to cooperate but depends on the individuals possession of “valence,” a term borrowed from physicists for “instantaneous” involuntary combination of one individual with another, for sharing and acting on a basic-assumption.”

    This idea of valence should take us into exploring the transmission of affect/emotion, yet Bion avoids the issue of a mechanism, suggesting only the existence of a “proto-mental system” which is both physical and mental. The problem with “valence” as a term, is that it captures a truth, yet does not differentiate between what one is valent toward or what one is valent with (although it does connote the activity of the senses).

    Bion’s idea of a “duality” of motivation within a group (work and a basic-assumption) allows us to recognize that a group can be “cognitively” responsive in relation to “symbols,” and see something else is going on “affectively,” (unconscious affect/emotion).”

    Excerpts from “The Transmission of Affect” by Teresa Brennan, PhD.

    I’m sure Dan’s a busy man and simply hasn’t had time to respond to others here since his interesting statement above. Perhaps he’s feeling uncomfortable with his unfortunate “splicing” of “trauma & chemical” into his political need to show leadership to a social group?

    As for my own position on trauma, I’m increasingly certain that “birth trauma” lies at the very root of my bipolar type 1 disorder, now resolved by learning about what makes me “tick” on the inside, rather than denying myself in a need for self-empowerment, by way of social-politics.

    Best wishes to all,

    David Bates.

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  15. I get that the bigger world is still under the spell of the lies perpetuated by the “old school” paradigm of “illness” “for life”.

    My complaint is that “recovery” is being defined by those who have no clue what the true meaning of the word is and those who have the ability, and in my mind the responsibility, to carry the true message are not doing it.

    And I don’t mean in an “in your face” way but just regular communication from the national level to the state levels instead of just allowing samsha and others still stuck in the system to define it as “meds plus a few alternatives”.

    Not once in my time at the state level did I see or hear communications from national to educate individuals at the state level that recovery meant FULL recovery and that “mental illness” is anything other than what they are being fed in the mainstream.

    At the conferences – yes. I heard a muffled message from speakers now and then but I”m talking about the responsibility of the national “recovery” network to start communicating what “recovery” really is to the state level orgs.

    I read your pace manual and was inspired because even though you used language that I find offensive having experienced psychiatry and “mental health” as torture and abusive I could see that we were on the same page.

    Yet because no one else is carrying the message contained in this work and what I understand your heart to be – many just don’t get it and continue to believe in this watered down version that is indeed “co opted” in my opinion. I am not living in a bubble but think that perhaps our national “recovery” org is in that it is not being recognize the responsibility that comes with creating a national network of “recovery” based organizations and not leading them to true “recovery”.

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  16. “Mental Illness is a Broken Brain”

    This is too comparable to saying that it’s not a curse to be an Indigenous person, that God still loves you, it’s only you’re uncivilized and our greater culture has the right to take over, exploit and make money while contaminating the land your ancestors respected with toxins, and wiping out countless species or amazingly beautiful wildlife.

    And it’s not a curse to be an indigenous person…

    “Mental Illness is a Broken Brain.”

    So stop breaking them. What’s wrong with yours? We really have empathy that you’re scared it might start working?

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  17. I want to respond to these very thoughtful responses. Yhis response, over a month later may not be read, but I need to say a few things.
    In response to David Bates, I appreciate the time you spent in reviewing a variety of studies on trauma. I am sure that trauma has an affect on the brain and every other part of us and our relationships. I, however, would like to make a disctinction between the affects of trauma, and the capacity for us each to exercise agency. When I hear pharma and their minions say that those of us labeled at one time have broken brains, I hear a voice with that statement whisper, “and you will never lead a full life, because the very essence of being you is forever broken. Therefore, you will forever need professionals and medication to correct this intinsic brokenness, though at best they will splint it together in an imperfect manner.”
    This leads to Susan’s request, that NEC lead the recovery movement to understand that full recovery is possible and regularly occurs. Susan, I agree, NEC should resume the leadership we established 10 years ago to make this point clearly. I agree we have allowed SAMHSA to water it down in the interest of having it reachna wider audience. The truth is, as you imply, I never left this conviction, I just have found it is a concept too different for many people to hear. In fact makes many people angry when I say that complete recovery is real. They feel, like David above that they have a permanently altered brain and they will never fully recover.mI am inspired to write more on this question. I think we are confused between the life ending description of mental illness and the fact that we have, as the autism self advocates say, neurodiversity or we might say mental diversity. If we can distinguish between recovery as a regaining of a full and meaningful life on the one hand, and differences in ways to living that life which to varying degrees we all share, we might be able to resolve this debate. The NEC paradigm of Recovery and Development, which you can find in several of my papers and PACE on our website, http://www.power2u.org, clearly makes this distinction. We separate recovery from what is called “mental illness” from healing from trauma. We are all healing from traumas, but only those of us who are labeled “mentally ill” go through recovery of our life in society.

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    • Hi Dan – I just found your reply today (6/20/13) and wanted to acknowledge your reply and thank you for taking the time to address my concerns.

      I DO understand the resistance you are describing yet – I want to mention that in the presentations I’ve done at both Alternatives 2011 and Iowa Advocates 2011 (Considering the risks; reducing or withdrawing) and in Iowa 2012 (companion guide to the PACE manual by Dan Fisher) they went over really, really well. Granted – there were those who were more interested in defending the status quo in the upper echelons of state agencies and the “old timers” of the “consumer” organization but in general – the PEOPLE who attended were asking for more. This leads me to believe that it IS possible to carry the message but it first has to be carried to the leadership of the consumer organizations that are under the NEC umbrella in order for them to willingly carry it to their constituents. I believe the NEC is positioned to accomplish this and can do it in a way that is compassionate of all.

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